Thursday, October 22, 2015

Solano reps pitch Travis on Capitol Hill

By Todd R. Hansen From page A1 | October 22, 2015

FAIRFIELD — The future of Travis Air Force Base – from expanded missions to new development projects and water – was on the agenda of area representatives who lobbied Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“Another base realignment and closure (debate) is inevitable,” Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said from the nation’s capital. “And that’s why we are doing what we are doing to keep Travis off that list.”

The discussions marked the need to maintain the KC-10 Extender mission, and perhaps expansion with the KC-46 aerial tankers, the community partnership efforts that include two development projects and the less-sexy but vital talks about securing a reliable water source for the base.

Price said he was encouraged by the local group’s meetings with Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, as well as their meetings with staff members for Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Perhaps even more rewarding, Price said, was the discussions they had with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office staff in Washington, D.C. Price said Brown’s staff surprised him with their knowledge of the Travis situation.

“I think we were encouraged by the governor’s role on the military council,” said Price, adding the local representatives also met with professional staff members from the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services.

The group, which was scheduled to meet Thursday with Pentagon officials, includes Mayor Len Augustine and Councilwoman Dilenna Harris from Vacaville, Fairfield City Manager David White and Solano County Economic Development Corp. executive Sandy Person.

Harris is there as chairwoman of the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee. Augustine spent 28 years in the Air Force, including assignments at the Pentagon and nearby Andrews Air Force Base.

The trip was funded through the Travis Community Consortium. The cost of the trip was not immediately known.

Price said it is critical that the KC-10 tankers remain at Travis, and if they were to be replaced by the new KC-46, then that mission be assigned to the 6,383-acre base located about 3 miles east of Fairfield.

Price said it is the Air Force’s position is that both the KC-10 and KC-46 tankers are necessary.

“And Travis has land space for both of them,” Price said.

Two development projects were also on the agenda.

The first is the on-base development of a new central civil engineering facility to replace more than 50 scattered and sometimes antiquated engineering operations and buildings. Officials said it would make the base far more efficient.

Augustine said the general budget for the project is between $20 million and $30 million. He said it would not only centralize those operations, but also free up space needed around flight operations on the base.

What is most unusual about the proposal is it would be funded through the Solano County bonding capacity, rather than the base trying to qualify for federal construction funding, which is not available at this time.

There is no specific time line for the project, officials said, but they would prefer sooner than later.

“Our plan is we want to move forward with the base as quickly as possible,” White said.

The group also received encouragement for the concept of developing about 70 acres not far from the Fairfield-Vacaville train station project, also part of the Air Force Community Partnership Initiative. If the plan moves forward, it could provide additional revenue for base operations through lease of the land.

“Nothing is on paper, so anything is possible,” Augustine said. “But I don’t think it would be housing. It would more likely be commercial and maybe some light industrial.”

While expansion on and around the base is vital, Price said, it is just as important to establish regulations that prevent negative impacts by future development, everything from solar and wind turbine projects to meteorological towers.

Also at the forefront of the discussions was the need for Travis to secure a more reliable water source.

The base gets its water from Vallejo and on-base wells. Eventually, the Vallejo Lake Frey and Lake Madigan sources will end, and the plan is to develop more groundwater resources.

White said Travis officials are in discussions with Fairfield and Vacaville to supply a secondary water source to the base in the event there are short-term problems with a well, or as yet to be determined by an ongoing groundwater study, the overall impact on the regional aquifer.

A $1 million infrastructure project has been outlined. White said the base has available funds to pay for the work, which would be completed by Fairfield.

“It’s important to get your project to the top of the list,” Augustine said of the trip. “And it renews (Washington officials’) confidence to know that there are people who support Travis Air Force Base.”

Reach Todd R. Hansen at 427-6919 or